After my rant earlier about missing the game yesterday and having not reported on the trip to Blackburn, I thought that I’d better give some time over to reflecting on where the last two games leave us. Which roughly translates as “I can be bothered to write up two match reports, but here is a few paragraphs of drivel where I attempt to make us all feel a little bit better”.
They’ve featured three teams who had terrible starts to the season, two defeats and one big old moan from the bar room Capellos of the land of pies. Of course we should be beating Blackburn at their place and even more should be absolutely battering Everton at the fortress DW, but let’s just imagine that, ooh, I don’t know, let’s say that Everton are a team still rolling in Europe and that, mmm, let’s think, Blackburn have got quite a good team, even though they’ve had a bit of turmoil in recent times.
Let’s face it, Latics’ record against these two sides is hardly anything to write home about (bring back Newcastle, I say) so I’m not quite sure why we’d think it would suddenly get better just because it would make us all feel that much more comfortable with the whole season. Everton really are a side that bottom half team aspire to be like and Blackburn, well they’re managed by Sam Allardyce so you know what you’re getting.
What you’ll get from both these sides is a battle, there’s no way you’re spending time on a pitch with either of them and walking away… (hobbling maybe?) without the odd bruise to remind you. Now I reckon that you, like me, were a bit worried on Tuesday how the current Latics side might cope with that, it’s not like they’ve always been that robust at times this year, is it?
Let’s get the good news out of the way first. a) they deserved something out of both of them, it would be a bit harsh to that Latics should have definitely be six points better off, but neither should they still be hovering just two points over the relegation places. Even better is b) Latics stood up to both Everton and Blackburn. Gave as good as they got? Maybe not, but it’s a start that they didn’t roll over like little puppies. If you look around the team you’ll see that there are a few quietly tough nuts.
I give you Thomas, Diame, Caldwell and Melchiot as evidence I’d even go as far as throwing a Bramble in for good measure. The trick now has to be to convince them that they’re battlers and that they’ve got to drive our season on from here.
The bad news is the simple fact that Latics couldn’t see either of these games out to their deserved outcome. In different ways they dominated good parts of both and yet they pocketed barely a goal bonus between them, let alone any points. It’s obvious that there’s plenty to do with Latics that needs more than cosmetic surgery and I reckon that you saw one of the big problems in difference between these two games.
Against Rovers, Latics stuttered their way through the first half without any real control and then stumbled through the second without creating any real chances. Against Everton, Latics competed and created throughout. It’s hard to do this with out naming names, so I won’t be shy, the key difference that was James McCarthy played behind the striker today whereas Paul Scharner did it on Wednesday.
For all his ‘attributes’, Scharner isn’t the creative player that a team needs playing the way we do, you need a man in the middle who is capable of bringing in the other three attackers Scharner is good at running and jumping and sliding, but intelligent distribution and clever through balls just aint his bag, the young lad is just better at it.
But he’s a young lad and (stuck record time) he’s not the only one suffering from inexperience, these two games have highlighted that. It’s fine if you’ve got the energy and strength to go toe to toe with another team, it’s great if you can create some chances whilst you’re at it, it’s completely another thing for you to have the nouse to close a game out when the lungs get puffy and the legs get shaky.
It’s shocking to think it at this stage of the season, but you have to question the fitness of a team that struggles to both close games out and to come on strong after conceding late on. I’ve made comments before about the reasons our pre-season was so thin, could it still be having an effect now? Is it possible to catch up on that front? If we can would it give us more freshness in the run in?
Any way, back to the games and you have to think that feeling so down about defeats to Blackburn away and Everton anywhere is a positive sign. In previous seasons we wouldn’t have expected too much from these games and what’s changed? You may be worried about our league position, but a game in hand and games against Stoke and Bolton (at home) to come could put a completely different perspective on it.
I’m not taking any “ah, but”s over that, yes those two games are drastically different prospects than perhaps we’d rather be facing at this stage of the season, but at the same time we’ve just shown that we can scrap it out with two of the masters of the trade. Hopefully this will be the chance for the extra class that every one reckons we’ve got to shine through.
(go on – the cat made you smile at least a little bit, didn’t it? You can admit it, no one is watching)
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